The “Write” Stuff
“With writing, we get second chances” – Jonathan Safran Foer
Kids say the darndest things, don’t they? You might think, and they are quite darn, but kids also have an amazing propensity to say all the things we adult sometimes keep ourselves from saying. They are compact truth seekers – perpetual ‘why’ yowlers, who keep us on our toes and remind us of the people we once were (which in turn, speaks to who we’ve become). So while they may not speak in polysyllabics, the ‘stuff’ of their speech should be heeded. And heed I will.
I volunteered at a local Boston Public School, The Timility, in a campaign called, “Promising Pals”. The premise is simple: volunteers (typically professional graduate students and adults in the community) will pair up with an assigned student and exchange letters throughout the year. At the end of the academic year the volunteers will convene for a school assembly and breakfast with their long-time ‘pal’.
It’s such a sweet concept. The assembly: sweeter (but more on that shortly).
You can request a student, but I had no gender or age preference and rolled the dice. Lucky roll as I received a letter crafted in fine penmanship from Mr. Musse. He was a seventh grade student with a love – a FERVENT LOVE – of math. What luck! A studious student! Someone who would appreciate the intent and philosophical push of this campaign. He employed good grammar! He showed ambition in education! Everything was as I’d otherwise request, with one some caveat.
Mr. Musse hated writing.
This is a great blow to a writer. I must confess that when I envision my ‘pal’ I imagine a wee thing of a student with a burning desire to rewrite Nancy Drew sagas. In my reverie I see someone scrawling slanted tear-stained words in a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper journal during lunch when they face the cruelty of adolescent meanness.
So I guess, if you deconstruct this, I did have a preference in mind. I clearly wanted an awkward girl who harbors dreams of being a writer. Instead I got Musse, the mathematician.
So he didn’t like to write, eh? Well, he wrote well. He wrote more than I did. More frequently and, I’m embarrassed to note, with more substance. He told me about himself and his family, but, in moves well beyond his age, he asked terrifically pointed questions and commented on comments I’d made in earlier letters. Mr. Musse made me want to be a better writer – but more than that, a better pal.
I had to be more than an assembly of words on paper. I had to get to know Musse for who he is, as opposed to who I’d envision he’d be. That’s hard to accept – when you realize how selfish you are in doing something uniformally self-less. And I have to thank Musse for that. He took me to task. He edited my drafts in a way no editor could. Thank you, Musse. You are going someplace great, kid.
So I met him. We volunteers were first ushered into a gymnasium to watch an assembly replete with harp demonstrations and a gaggle of middle school girls reappropriating Michael Jackson’s “Girl In the Mirror”, and many, many thanks on behalf of the Principal, the Superintendent, local Non-Profits. It was sincere and all in honor of community and relationships. We were then ferried to our students – I, more nervous than expected to find …
Well, I found Musse. And he was not impressed.
To say he never smiled is taking it lightly, but I have to believe he was putting on some tough-guy bravado, because when I followed his lead – asked him the questions that suggest we really listen, well, he answered. He answered in a manner that determined that he paid attention to me, too.
In the end isn’t that what everyone wants? To be heard. To have someone to hear?
I bought Musse a book to make him smile. He did, but was quickly approached by his friend who’s ‘pal’ worked for the Red Sox and brought him game tickets. The smile dissipated but, but, but my dear Musse, there’s always next year. Either I’ll appease you with tickets or win you other with my writing. But I won’t give up. You’re too crafty to allow me that.